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Manuscript Sources from the Public Record Office

Part 1: Empire and Suffrage (AR, CAB, CO and DO files)

Parts 1 and 2 are devoted to manuscript materials on the twin themes of Empire and Suffrage. In Part 1 there are particularly good files from both the Colonial and Dominions Office, with excellent source material on Imperial Conferences, colonial government and imperial policies, tribal customs in Africa, slavery, the status of indigenous women and children, deliberations on the franchise and social conditions throughout the Empire.

The files cover four subject areas:

  • Nationality Law as it affects women
    Nationality Law was the subject of controversy in Britain as early as 1914, with the passage of the British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act. These files enable scholars to examine the topic of Nationality Law in British relations with the Dominions and in discussions concerning women, marriage and migration in the period after the First World War.
  • The condition of indigenous women, female colonial subjects and women of colour
    The imperial state dealt with a variety of subjects including female genital mutilation, slavery, veiling, religious practices and customary or ‘personal’ law in the colonies and protectorates. The files provide a number of interesting case studies such as Kikuyu circumcision ceremonies in Kenya, the work of the Colonial Advisory Committee on Social Hygiene, and moves to abolish brothels and suppress the ‘white slave’ trade. The files highlight the problems of an essentially male dominated Colonial Office in facing up to issues of gender which they clearly struggled to comprehend. Several files point to the Colonial Office’s reluctance to appoint women as much needed advisors. Reports of the Native Commissioners for 1900-1901 in Rhodesia, with information on their journeys through different regions and villages, investigations of the poor treatment of natives and observations on local customs, are a rich resource for researchers.
  • The extension of suffrage and other civil and political rights to women at home and in the Dominions
    Women’s enfranchisement became an issue as dominions became ‘nations’ and, in the late imperial era, as decolonisation loomed in the ‘dependent’ empire. A central core of files address the women’s suffrage question in Britain, Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and South Africa. Indian women’s suffrage became a big issue in the late 1920s and early 1930s, in the high level negotiations leading to the Government of India Act of 1935. Additional files cover colonies such as Bermuda, the Bahamas and Zanzibar. For comparative purposes there are a few files on suffrage in Bolivia, Cuba and Norway.
  • The obligations of the UK as a member of international bodies and as a party to international treaties
    Women’s issues were international as well as imperial issues. The files allow scholars to explore such topics as prostitution and trafficking, the control of venereal disease, education, and the pay and working conditions of women. Particular files concern the status of women at home and abroad in the colonies. Other material covers legislative attempts to regulate and improve conditions for women.

Digital Guide
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